Category Archives: Reviews and Commentary

“I listened to a hilarious podcast about a fistula the other day…”

The quote above probably sounds like an unlikely sentence to text to anyone, but I have a doctor friend who shares my interest in audio content and has a weird sense of humor. She did in fact receive such a communication from me. We often recommend podcasts to each other to try out. A humorous episode about a fistula sounded to me like one she’d enjoy!

What are podcasts? They are audio presentations that you can consume on demand with a device that can access the Internet. If you like books on tape, instructional audio tapes, public radio, community radio, talk radio or similar audio content you will probably enjoy them – there seems to be a podcast for almost any topic you might be interested in.

Podcasts are a big part of my life. One reason is that I’m not very patient with entertainment content that is not on demand. I don’t want to constantly watch or listen to content that is selected by programmers to emotionally and intellectually manipulate me. I’m currently working on a Master’s Degree in Communications. My long-held suspicions that most mass media content is manipulation disguised as entertainment have been confirmed by my recent studies. I feel less manipulated if I at least choose the topics I want to hear about and get more of my entertainment from independent content producers. Although I sometimes enjoy mass entertainment for my own reasons, I prefer to avoid being inundated with commercials when possible and I don’t normally want to arrange my schedule around entertainment schedules – I want to watch or listen when it’s convenient for me.

Another reason is that I rely on podcasts a lot to help me fall asleep at night. While recovering from severe emotional trauma, I was introduced to meditation apps and sleep aid podcasts. Some podcasts are designed specifically for inducing sleep, and others work that way for me even if not specifically produced for that purpose.

I also spend multiple days a week working from home and podcasts help keep me entertained and less lonely if I’m doing tasks that are not that mentally engaging.

Here are some of my favorite podcasts, many with my brief commentary, divided into categories. I’ve linked to the podcast’s web site or social media fan page whenever possible so that no matter what platform or service you use to consume podcasts, if you can access the Internet hopefully you can find a way to listen. Usually that is done through a web browser or podcast app.

Educational podcasts

The History of Egypt Podcast – seems to be real archaeology, not pseudoarchaeology!

Pet Fish Talk – Inactive, but most of the episodes are still available. It’s not very polished, but these guys are like rock stars to me because of all the knowledge they have – when my landscaping boss told me he met these guys at a green industry conference, I was excited and pumped him for every bit of information he could remember. “You met the Bailey Brothers!!!! OMG!!!”

PodGOATS – great if you need an introduction to a history topic that you are interested in exploring in a more in-depth way later.

Stuff to Blow Your Mind

Stuff You Should Know – I don’t know if some of this “stuff” is important, but it’s almost all interesting once you get into it. A wide variety of topics to choose from.

You Bet Your Garden – A perennial favorite (har har).

Humor podcasts

The Crash Bang Wallop Podcast – This is a weird one. Two British comedians mocking some aspects of disasters. I felt extremely guilty for trying this one out, but since once at a trivia night I did sweep, singlehandedly, both the British slang and Disaster categories, I had to see for myself what I thought of it. They seem to (try to) steer away from mocking the victims and instead mock some aspects of the situation. Some of the disasters they cover are very tragic and terrible, and some are more lighthearted, such as New Coke. If dark humor does not appeal to you probably best to avoid the more tragic episodes.

The Dave Glover Show

The Tim Conway Jr. Show

Political podcasts

The Kevin Jackson Show – African-American conservatives are not unheard of, but they usually don’t get featured a lot in the mass media. If you want to hear from one, Kevin Jackson is very entertaining and will help you look at things from angles you may not have considered, if that’s what you are looking for.

Pop Culture podcasts

The Beatles Naked – I listen to a lot of Beatles podcasts and this is my current favorite. From what I can tell there is a lot of original or less obvious research presented.

Deck the Hallmark – I found this podcast while doing research for my paper What is the Hallmark Channel Selling? There are three hosts who have different views on Hallmark Channel programming – fan, tolerant, and critical. They are also very funny and I think you’ll laugh as they find things to rip and praise.

Fabcast – If you don’t LLLOOOOVVVVEEE the Beatles you might get frustrated by the sometimes over-the-top praise from these hosts, but they really do know their stuff and they have some perspectives that are worth hearing.

Fab 4 Free 4 All – These guys talk over each other a lot, which can get annoying sometimes, but their likable personalities and vast Beatles knowledge help make up for that.

I’ve Got a Beatles Podcast! – The hosts are really knowledgeable – one is even a musicologist. They also sometimes say hilarious things. For example, if you are a Paul McCartney fan, check out Episode 80: McCartney’s “Silliest (Love) Songs!” in which they include this concept – is a song “bad” if you love it? Thought provoking and funny!

Paul or Nothing – Some Paul McCartney fans that night not like this one. The host has some controversial opinions and has interviewed possibly the most controversial guest available – Geoffrey Guiliano. Guiliano is such a polarizing Beatles author that some people made up a rumor that he died in the 9/11 attacks. I found the resulting interview extremely entertaining along with most of these episodes, which sometimes praise and sometimes rip apart McCartney’s music. The host is engaging, funny and does his research. He is young and just learning some of the things we older fans have known for awhile, but he’s clearly putting in the effort.

Rushcast – hasn’t been active in awhile, but you can still listen to the archived episodes. Hosted by a bassist and music teacher.

Something About the Beatles

Talk More Talk – This is a videocast about the Beatles as solo artists. So far I’ve consumed it as audio only.

Take It Away – Knowledgeable analysis of Paul McCartney’s music.

Things We Said Today – Solid and entertaining Beatles analysis. Allan Kozinn in my opinion stands out in a field of talented hosts.

Trashy Divorces – Most of these episodes are about celebrities, so if you study pop culture, reputation management, the use of media as a weapon or related topics you might find it useful.

Religious podcasts

Catholic Answers Live – You have to know a lot to be able to explain the Catholic Faith and the rotating hosts on this show know the answers. They are respectful and loving to all callers but not afraid to tell it like it is even when it’s radically counter-cultural. If you are curious about what Catholics believe or are Catholic and want to strengthen your practice, this is one of the best resources I know of.

The Thriving Christian Artist – Tips to help achieve spiritual, artistic and financial success.

Who Is the Man of the Shroud? – One of my favorite intersections – Archaeology and Christianity!

Sleep Inducing podcasts

Sleep With Me – Delightfully, whimsically, benevolently weird! Effective too!

 

I’m not sure why but I feel I have to explain my interest in the next couple of podcast categories a little bit! I inherited a layperson’s interest in morbid topics and forensic science, along with archaeology and history, from my Mother and Grandmother. It may be weird, but I came by it honestly! My Mom subscribed to Reader’s Digest when I was in grade school and I usually read every article in it, but the ones that really stick in my memory are the disaster and unsolved mystery related articles. My Mom took us to every historic site that was possible during her life and history is often rather dark. When you visit historic sites and monuments, you will learn about all kinds of disasters, deaths, epidemics, assassinations, wars, crimes and oppression as well as happier topics.

When I was young, along with subscriptions to the adult and kid’s versions of National Geographic, I also had a subscription to a kid’s magazine for mysteries, UFO’s, Sci-Fi and paranormal stuff called Weird Worlds. I lost most of my interest in Sci-Fi and UFO’s when I got older but I still love mysteries, especially historical ones. I also am fascinated by human behavior. The way people react in extreme situations is interesting to me.

Weird History and Paranormal podcasts

Astonishing Legends – I am a practicing Roman Catholic, so I do believe there is a realm of existence that is beyond what our senses can normally detect, but that doesn’t mean I find every report of such phenomena credible. Most paranormal topics bring out the skeptic in me, but I have an open mind and if someone can make a case that is evidence based, I would like to hear it. The Astonishing Legends guys do a great job of doing thorough research and presenting their evidence in a way that seems intellectually honest. They lean on the side of believing in some of the paranormal phenomena they research when evidence is inconclusive or suggestive. I have no problem with that. There is no point to listening for entertainment to a presentation of research on a paranormal topic that is settled. What is the fun of that? If you don’t consider a mystery debunked, why not entertain it for awhile and see what happens? I enjoy the mental exercise of deciding how to evaluate evidence.

Diggin’ Oak Island – This podcast is about a TV show that my husband and I watch called “The Curse of Oak Island”. The History Channel should be ashamed of how intellectually dishonest this show is, but it’s still entertaining because I like the personalities, the technology and the ridiculousness. If you are interested in the actual mystery (I’m one of those people who was fascinated by the Reader’s Digest article about it in the 1970s) I recommend this podcast as a companion piece to the show. It helps understand what you’ve just watched and figure out what is bunk and what might have some credibility to it. This host doesn’t trash the show when it’s not called for, he is a fan, but he is also appropriately critical.

The Futility Closet – Obscure bits of interesting history plus lateral thinking puzzles.

Jimmy Akin’s Mysterious World – Jimmy Akin is my favorite host on the Catholic Answers religious podcast. Here he tackles both mysterious faith related subjects and mysterious non-religious topics and analyzes them from both a logic perspective and a faith perspective. Very stimulating and refreshing to listen to, because he draws on many areas of knowledge and explores how they inform each other. The depth of this guy’s knowledge is astonishing every time I listen.

Lore – Sometimes it annoys me that the description of each episode is kind of vague, but on the other hand not knowing much about the topic before I listen helps me to be surprised and exposes me to bits of history that I didn’t know. I also like this host’s other podcast, Cabinet of Curiosities.

Omnibus – This is the podcast that featured the hilarious fistula episode. What more do I need to say?

Thinking Sideways – Unfortunately inactive but the archives are still available.

Disaster and Disturbing podcasts

Casefile – This is one of my favorites in the True Crime genre. Well researched and respectful to the victims, and free of rambling.

Coroner Talk – Sounds like a great educational resource if you are a coroner. Why do I like it? I am also interested in how such an occupation affects people psychologically and what it takes to be able to do a job like that.

Great Disasters – The hostess has a great delivery, very clear and organized, but not without emotion when appropriate. She is an amazing storyteller and reader. And the topics are well written and researched. You’ll be moved and informed.

Nocturne – This is a good one for when you want to be just a little creeped out but not necessarily terrified!

Omitted – Season Four, Island Vacation combines creepiness, storytelling and travel. Really compelling.

Plane Crash Podcast – Believe it or not, there are several podcasts about plane crashes in existence. This is by far my favorite. The host does good research, is logical, doesn’t ramble, and has a kind, compassionate attitude.

Rippercast – Although organized around the Jack the Ripper case, this podcast is mostly not focused on gore but instead on Victorian history and culture and how it intersects with the case. Since the case lives on in current pop culture, some of the episodes examine that aspect also. If you have any interest in the Victorian era there will probably be some episodes you can get into.

True Crime Garage – I don’t listen to every episode, but my liking for the hosts keeps me checking in from time to time.

Wow, that was a huge list. It doesn’t include all the podcasts I currently listen to or have listened to, but I hope it’s enough of a selection that you’ll find something interesting!

Pride & Prejudice: Light Holiday Entertainment?

pandp_webMy husband and I have been gifted season tickets to the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis preview nights by his parents and it is our custom to go to dinner with then before each new production. Usually I like to ask if any of the party are familiar with the play. If it is adapted from a book, I want to know if anyone has read it and what they thought of it. Until recently I haven’t seen a lot of live plays so I’m trying to learn as much as I can.

I read “Pride and Prejudice” long ago and I’ve seen both modern and period style movie adaptations of the novel, but none of these were recent and fresh in my memory. I described what the story was about to the best of my ability to our party and my husband said “So it’s like a chick flick”. Coming from my husband this is not a put down. He likes “chick flicks” – he is the one who introduced me to Hallmark Christmas Movies for the first time which also could be considered “chick flicks” but whose audience is around 30% men. I searched for podcasts about “Pride and Prejudice” to learn more about the history and context of the original novel and came across an episode of “The Drunk Guys Book Club Podcast” in which they admitted that they read the book because it’s something that one probably should read if one has aspirations of being well-read. They admitted it was not their usual taste but they are aware the story is enjoyed by many women even in the present day.

The central driver of the plot is an English country family with an estate that legally must be left to a male heir and is entailed – it cannot be divided up among the daughters of the family which has no sons to provide for their future support. The daughters must find husbands who are able and willing to support them and if circumstances make it necessary, the possibly future widowed mother and any sisters who don’t find husbands. The closest male heir is a cousin and it would be advantageous for the family of one of the daughters could wed him so at least some of the family remains connected to the estate.

If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because it’s similar to Downton Abbey, a popular television historical drama that familiarized many Americans with entailment and primogeniture and how those practices affected landed families in the UK that were trying to preserve estates and retain social status. It wasn’t always possible in real life to do that and indulge in romantic love at the same time. Pride and Prejudice the play makes no attempt to explore the fates of the working class or servant class which have very different concerns. American life in the present day has many differences to the landed gentry life of the early 1800s or the aristocratic life of the early 1900s depicted in Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey respectively. Regency England is so far from life in the US in 2019 but not so distant that we can’t enjoy this play today.

It isn’t always easy in the present day to find romantic love even when women have a lot more freedom and economic independence. I thought about this while watching the play because when I was dating my now husband, I told him that I might eventually sell the two small homes I own, but I wasn’t going to promise to sell them at any particular time or at all. I told him that I would of course take his opinions about managing them into account and make decisions that were best for us as a couple, but since I could afford to maintain the properties with my own money I was going to be the final decision maker. I told him if that was a dealbreaker for him to tell me now.

Does that seem like an odd question for a woman in her late 40s to have to ask a suitor in the year 2017? I think it’s odd indeed, but I learned from the relationship proceeding the one with my now husband, that yes I had to ask it. I thought I was on the verge of a proposal from my previous boyfriend, but he abruptly dumped me. He told me the reason for his action was that he did not approve of my renting an art studio. When I suggested that after marriage I move to his home and use my then current home as a studio because the cost of owning it was roughly the same as rent for the studio, he told me it was not acceptable for me to consider still retaining ownership of my condo and he was finished with me for even thinking about it. He believed I was incompetent at managing money (guess which one of us was and still is debt-free) and he didn’t want me to continue to do art projects. It’s possible there was a lot more than that going on, but I have it in writing from him that those were the reasons he was willing to admit to. I believe he was really a fake suitor and not a real one but I thought he was for real at the time. Yes, I’m old fashioned enough to still think in terms of “suitors”. I haven’t spoken to him since other than superficial politeness if we are ever at the same events. (The reason we met in the first place is that we like similar events and know a lot of the same people. I’m polite if spoken to because I don’t want to make other guests or the hosts uncomfortable.)

After that I decided that if I ever got the chance to be in a relationship again and it looked like it might be leading to marriage, I would have this conversation earlier since apparently some attitudes I thought were a given in the present day in our current culture are, in fact,  not. I wanted to get married but not if I had to give up my right to own property to do it. I had read the essay “A Room Of One’s Own” by Virginia Wolf in my teen years and as a creative person I fully understood the implications even if I didn’t yet understand how hard it was going to be to get “a room of my own” AND romantic love and how long I was going to have to wait.

I told my husband that if he liked Hallmark Christmas movies he would probably like the play we were about to see. The heroine is rewarded for her strong-minded and unorthodox approach to life. She finds love with a handsome man and security for her family, similar to many Hallmark movie plots. The play even ended in true Hallmark style with a couple of conventions I won’t spoil but which you can probably predict! With its disturbing background about the rights and roles of women in the circumstances in which it was written, it can be paradoxically enjoyed as light Holiday fare if you don’t dig in too deeply. And if you want to dig in deeply there is plenty of substance to reflect on later. Is this story romantic or anti-romantic?

Enjoy the florid manners, witty banter, choreography, romantic comedy conventions and lush production. As someone who appreciates design and sewing, I was particularly taken by the costumes and would have been entertained by those alone if necessary! There is a big cast with lots of costume changes and I loved how certain characters wore variations of the same color to help you keep track of who is who. If you go, if you are not very familiar, to get maximum enjoyment out of the play I recommend brushing up a little on the characters beforehand so you are not confused. Also don’t do what I did and remain seated during intermission. It’s a long play and I got a little restless-leg feeling going at the end which made me fidget to try to get my leg comfortable. (When I was younger I called it “movie knee”.) Do walk around a bit if you can!

Pride & Prejudice
by Jane Austen
Adapted by Christopher Baker
Directed by Hana S. Sharif
December 4-29, 2019

Link to box office: Pride & Prejudice

I put some links to help understand more of the historical background here:
Literary Origins

Media Literacy and Interpreting Political Messages

In Mass Communication class this past fall, I wrote about the following propaganda techniques in my paper “How do we decide which media sources we can trust?” – Name Calling, Glittering Generalities, Transfer, Testimonial, Plain Folks, Card Stacking, Band Wagon, Impersonation, Emotion, Polarization, Conspiracy, Discredit and Trolling. I found some really interesting information about trolling that I saved in the extra links section below my paper for further study later. Recently in Media and Culture class, we watched a 60 Minutes video report titled “Brain Hacking” which inspired me to do a little experiment on social media the next day.

I saw a meme shared by a friend on Facebook that contained a false but somewhat plausible sounding claim about current political events. I shared it in my Facebook feed, which is public because I use it for marketing as well as other purposes, to see what kind of reaction I would get. I and others made some comments below it that I plan to investigate more and write up in a more polished way later. For now, one of the most important things I observed was that the meme drew comments from people I’ve been Facebook friends with for years (and friends in real life in some cases) who never respond to my more typical, much higher quality content. I can speculate on many reasons why this was so, some of which I may be able to prove and some I may not. One thing I can definitively assert however is the effect of the trolling on this blog, a separate channel from Facebook but with lots of cross-links back and forth. I posted the trolling meme on November 20, 2019 and here is a screenshot I took this morning of my blog stats.

blog traffic increased by trolling
Yes I’m a graphic designer and I could have easily faked this graphic – but I give you my word that I didn’t, for what it’s worth!

With more research I hope to understand more about how trolling works, but I think it’s pretty clear why so many people do it – it gets attention!

In my current Media and Culture class, one of our recent assignments was to find and analyze examples of a successful political ad and and unsuccessful political ad. I found something really great – a successful political ad about political ads, very interesting for that reason alone, which was also a Facebook trolling experiment perpetrated by a presidential campaign.

A political ad that comments on advertising and is also a trolling test.

Even though “trolling” is a word with negative connotations, I think this is a very successful example and in a way could be considered “good” propaganda as I consider my own trolling test to be. In both cases we tried to be somewhat ethical while trolling by eventually coming clean about what we were doing in order to raise awareness. Regardless of which candidate one supports, I think all can benefit from seeing and analyzing the Warren ad. In order to truly be able to interpret media messages it is a good media literacy skill to be aware of the ad policy on the channel on which you are viewing the content. It’s a hot topic right now in the news as channels scramble to modify their ad policies to bring about the election results they want, appease users who fear “fake news” and trolls, and still get a slice of that fat advertising pie (according to Bloomberg over a billion in 2016 just for the dominant presidential candidates).

The original Warren ad led off with a shocking statement to get attention. After explaining the purpose of lying in the ad, the copy then makes accusations that would take research to prove or disprove which I’m not going to attempt here, but would probably be believed or dismissed by many depending on how the audience has been primed. The photo of Trump and Zuckerberg shaking hands will likely get an emotional reaction out of a lot of people. Even though a handshake is a standard beginning and end to a business meeting, the photo suggests they are partners. I don’t know if the photo was purposely chosen to show eye contact between Mr. Zuckerberg and President Trump with the President appearing to be speaking and Mr. Zuckerberg listening, but it could be interpreted as trying to show the smaller, slighter, younger Zuckerberg as being under Trump’s thrall.

Was the Warren ad effective? When I did research trying to find information about this ad, I learned that it inspired commentary and articles on NPR, CNET, CNBC, The New York Times and others. The media coverage I’m sure is something the campaign wants since their stated goal is to raise awareness of Facebook’s current advertising policy. Based on a quick glance at Warren’s Twitter feed, the amount of likes and shares this ad instigated was a very good result compared to normal results. The call to action at the end is a common feature of many good ads – it lets viewers do something right away if they are so moved.

There is a Facebook Ad Library that allows you to view current and past ads, even ones you were not otherwise shown because you were not the target audience. It’s interesting to see what each campaign is running! Also if you do searches about a candidate (for example “Donald Trump”) vs. those that are paid for by the Candidate’s own committee (for example ” Trump Make America Great Again Committee”), you can get very different results. Try it!

The photo in the troll ad reminds me of the Webster University Journal article we discussed toward the beginning of the class about Senator Josh Hawley and the Confucius Institute. A lot of photos could have been chosen to use in that article. It’s interesting that most of the other articles I found have photos of activities at Confucius Institutes, Chinese people or Chinese culture, or some kind of protest. But the Journal article has a photo that could be considered kind of loaded, especially when you consider it in conjunction with the article’s contents. Why do you think a photo from Cape Girardeau was chosen instead of one from the St. Louis area when Webster University and the Confucius Institute it hosts are in St. Louis County? Sometimes certain photos are chosen because they are available. Sometimes certain photos are chosen because they convey a latent message. Do you think there are latent messages in these two photos?

political photo choice in an ad and in an article
Photo from the Warren ad on the left, photo from the Webster University Journal on the right. What messages might be sent based on Scale? On Relative Position? Anything else?

After reading my paper “Production Elements and Messages in The Television Series The Crown what do you think of the above two photos? Still photos and motion pictures use a lot of the same production elements. Following are some more questions I would ask the writer, editor and publisher of the Journal if I could.

Why was there no mention made that there was a Senate hearing on the issue with a member of the FBI giving testimony about why the agency was concerned?

Why was no mention made of other politicians from both major parties writing similar letters to colleges in their states? Some of the other Universities’ actions were mentioned, but not what prompted them. Why is that?

Why was no mention made of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs report? The excerpt below is from page 21:

“Over the last several years, members of Congress, U.S. government officials, and academics have raised a number of concerns about Confucius Institutes, including about academic freedom, contractual agreements, transparency, hiring practices, and self-censorship. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Foreign Relations Committees all held broad hearings that discussed China at which Senators heard from experts on U.S.-China relations, academic freedom advocates, and law enforcement officials. Additionally, members of Congress from several states issued public letters to U.S. schools with Confucius Institutes urging them to reconsider their arrangement with Hanban.”

I am very much in favor of cultural exchange and the learning languages of other cultures. I think the more we and other nations understand each other the better off we will all be. I don’t know whether the Webster University Chancellor made the right decision or not because I don’t know enough about the legal and financial arrangements to judge. I could not detect anything false in the Webster Journal article, but on the other hand I don’t think there was enough information in it to understand the actual issue. I am pretty sure I know what the Journal wanted me to think about it though. I think my analysis is an example of how we have to read all news stories to be informed and not just manipulated.

To see what I used as sources in analyzing the Journal article I put a link to the Journal article and other interesting articles on the topic I found, plus a link to the Senate report on this Confucius Institutes on College Campuses Pinterest board.

Production Elements and Messages in The Television Series “The Crown”

WARNING: Contains spoilers for Season 3 Episodes 2 and 3! Yes I know the show is about historic events but some of them are obscure enough that some audience members might not be aware of them before watching… Also there are some liberties taken with history here and there to make a better story. Private conversations are dramatized on screen for which there are no records. This goes for every historical drama that I have ever taken the time to analyze, so I think it’s important to use them as entertainment and to generate interest in a historical topic that you want to learn more about, but be cautious about using them as sources of facts. Actual documentaries can be manipulated quite a bit as well. Both forms can be marvelous entertainment however. As a visual artist, I think practically every shot in The Crown is a work of art and the period costumes and sets alone are worth the time to watch. For example it’s kind of disappointing to find out that in real life Princess Margaret wore a pink dress with a modest neckline to the White House and not a low-cut bright red and white floral, but it’s beautiful nonetheless. Enjoy!

Following is a paper I turned in yesterday for Media and Culture class, before grading.


Production Elements and Messages in The Television Series The Crown

The Netflix historical drama series The Crown tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign against a backdrop of historical events and personal relationships (The Crown). Reviewers consistently praise the high quality of the production (The Crown). I watched two back-to-back episodes of the current third season which featured stories of increasing seriousness and emotional impact to explore how production elements help to tell each story.

Editing

In S3 Ep2 “Margaretology”, editing greatly helps the narrative by beginning the episode with a flashback of the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret as young girls. They discuss how younger sister Margaret, though by law she cannot be Queen because she is not the first born, actually wants to do the job, has more confidence in her natural ability, and might actually be better at being Queen. They decide to find out if they can switch places. Next is a scene from the show’s present day in which Margaret and her husband discuss her life as it is contrasted with how it should have been. Then the opening credits begin. Later in the episode, Elizabeth decides that she needs Margaret’s help with diplomacy with the United States and Margaret has success in charming President Johnson at a White House dinner. Margaret asks Elizabeth to give her more duties. Although the Queen is tempted, she is persuaded by her husband Philip that it’s safer for the monarchy and the country to keep things the way they are. The episode ends with flashbacks to the child Margaret intercut with the present day Margaret at similar dressing tables, looking devastated, showing that her feelings of not being able to achieve what she viewed as her potential are old hurts that won’t go away (Margaretology).

“Aberfan”, S3 Ep3, is a much more serious episode. Instead of dealing with the disappointment of one character whose personality is sometimes abrasive and not always easy to empathize with (Margaretology), “Aberfan” tells the story of a horrific 1966 mining disaster that killed 144 people, including 116 children (Blakemore). Before the opening credits, there are scenes of the Welsh town Aberfan in the rain (Aberfan). The camera slowly rises over the rooftops to show a view of dark hills surmounted by a mining operation that dwarfs the community. Next there are more scenes of the village, showing children at the end of a school day, being dismissed, walking home and going about their normal evening activities with their families. Considerable screen time is spent on the children and this sustained coverage lets us know their importance (Silverblatt et al. 169). We are also shown a canary in a cage in one of the mining families’ homes. The canary could symbolize many things. The little bird’s sweet chirping recalls the chatter and singing of the innocent children. It has little control over its own fate because it is in a cage, possibly bringing to one’s mind a symbolic cage of being born into a way of life built on dangerous labor with limited opportunity to escape. Canaries also remind us that mining is a hazardous profession due to their traditional use in detecting deadly underground gases (Eschner).

It’s not only raining in Wales, it’s also raining at Buckingham Palace, where Queen Elizabeth II is looking over her planner and writing the heading “Friday” as she plans her next day. This is not the only instance in which the disaster occurring on a Friday is emphasized (Aberfan). The Christian faith of the people of the village and of the Monarch is prominent throughout the episode, and Christian viewers watching would be aware that Friday is the most somber day in the Christian week because by scripture and tradition Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday (Aglialoro). Before the teacher dismisses the children, he asks what tomorrow is. The first answer is Friday. The answer the teacher is looking for is that it is also the day when they are going to have an assembly for which they need to practice a song (Aberfan).

On the Friday morning, the tension keeps building when scenes of the disaster beginning to manifest are cross-cut with classroom scenes (Aberfan). Cross-cutting is a technique that shows events happening in different locations are occurring at the same time (Silverblatt et al. 171).

More than once during the episode we are shown the Queen’s arrangement of family photos in her sitting room, and she and the Prime Minister are each seen gazing at family photos as they contemplate events. Perhaps we are meant to remind ourselves that families are a near-universal part of human existence no matter what our life circumstances are. Even if we feel safe and secure in an imposing palace or a modest but cozy cottage, our loved ones can be taken from us at any time in ways we never expected (Aberfan).

Color and Lighting

Margaret is consistently shown wearing livelier and more colorful fashions than her more conservative older sister in the “Margaretology” episode. As Margaret arrives at the White House, the facade of the building is well lit with warm light in contrast to gray Buckingham Palace, suggesting that the older, struggling country might find the hope and help it seeks from the prosperous younger nation. The light could also symbolize Margaret coming out into her natural if not traditional place in the spotlight at last (Margaretology). In a scene where Margaret asks the Queen for more public duties, the sisters are both wearing green as Elizabeth and Margaret get little digs in at each other about what they envy about each others’ lives (Margaretology), an example of exploiting associations that different colors have in our culture (Silverblatt et al. 171).

When Prime Minister Harold Wilson visits the Queen to tell her about her sister’s lively if not outrageous performance at the White House dinner, using humorously understated phrases such as “less than discreet” and “a little off-color”, they are in the Queen’s sitting room which as usual is softly lit with a color palette of muted grays and pastels. The Queen is expecting to hear bad news during this private conversation with her Prime Minister and the subdued atmosphere fits his hesitance and embarrassment as well as her reluctance to hear the inevitable. Gray tones can signify discomfort (Silverblatt et al. 172) and dim lighting can indicate something hidden (Silverblatt et al. 176). While Margaret is proud of her turn in the spotlight, the Queen and Prime Minister would prefer not to bring her behavior out into the open. The sitting room scenes are intercut with incidents from the previous evening’s dinner that had been relayed to the Prime Minister through the British Ambassador. The dinner party scenes are full of bright flowers in warm tones that complement Margaret’s coral-red and white-flowered dress as she wins over the first couple and their guests who follow the President’s lead in appreciating Margaret’s cruder type of charm. Margaret is even verbally compared to a color film as opposed to one in black and white as her husband reads to her a newspaper account of their earlier, socially successful visit to San Francisco (Margaretology).

In the episode “Aberfan”, at the beginning before the credits we see a wide view of the village with the coal tips and mining operations in the background. It’s early morning and the light from one of the cottages near the foot of the dark mass that threatens the town shines through the windows. The house looks like a nostalgic little model in a holiday display or toy train layout. Since this dwelling is close to the base of the coal tip, it’s possible that it represents one of the homes that got destroyed in the disaster. The light could symbolize the life that is about to be snuffed out like a little candle flame, consistent with several possible meanings of light including life and innocence (Silverblatt et al. 176). Later in the episode candles are prominent as lighting for emergency use, in the mortuary and in the chapel (Aberfan).

Lighting is used in dramatic ways throughout the whole episode. The dark hills and rainy, gray weather combine with the dimly lit interiors of the humble buildings in the village to create a suitably somber mood, appropriate for grief, mourning and death (Silverblatt et al. 176). Light is used constantly throughout the whole episode to enhance and what the viewer is seeing and feeling. Vehicle headlights, lamps, flashlights, spotlights, flashbulbs, the sun and beams of light all play a part in the composition of scenes. Prime Minister Wilson looks shocked at several points in the episode and flash bulbs going off in his face emphasize his distress even more (Aberfan).

At the end of the devastating funeral service for dozens of children, some beams of light barely get though the gray sky as the mourners sing a hymn. This light could represent several things. It could be the mourners comforted slightly by the thought of the children’s souls being lifted up to God. It could be comfort from God or the funeral assemblage or both, however feeble, giving a tiny bit of hope to the community that they can live through this catastrophe. During the funeral scene, we are shown close-ups of Philips face. Perhaps the light is Philip’s thoughts as he becomes enlightened on how best to advise the Queen on how to help the community heal.

Shapes and Connotative Images

There are occasions in the “Aberfan” episode where Elizabeth is contemplating what actions she should take while she is shown backlit in profile. This technique is perhaps intended to bring to mind the iconic image of the monarch on coins and stamps as she decides how to live up to the duty that her idealized image represents. Shape and light are again used together in the Aberfan cemetery. The graves of the children are arranged in a cross shape. We also see a cross in focus behind the Queen’s head when she prays alone in a chapel (Aberfan). Both the profile and the cross could also be considered connotative images that bring up associations in the intended audience (Silverblatt et al. 189).

Scale and Relative Position

Scale is used effectively in “Margaretology” when Margaret sees by her sister’s attitude that the answer to her request to have more of a public role is no. There is a picnic taking place on a hill in front of a castle. Margaret’s position as well as the camera’s is downhill from the picnic, suggesting she is dominated by the institutions that control all their lives and is forever subordinate to her sister. In a flashback when the young Margaret is being scolded for daring to ask courtier Alan Lascelles (Alan Lascelles) if she and her sister could change places, Lascelles is shot from approximately her eye level so he looks exceedingly stern and intimidating while the young Margaret is comparatively powerless (Margaretology).

In “Aberfan”, the ominous mountain of coal is repeatedly shown looming over the village and the people, emphasizing their vulnerability (Aberfan).

Angles and Movement

In the beginning stages of the Aberfan disaster, the tension is enhanced by diagonal shots of ore cart tracks, lift cables and structures. The mountainside itself forms a diagonal angle as the coal slurry starts to slip down and toward the town (Aberfan). Diagonal lines and movement are associated with the triangle shape which is more active and unstable than squares and 90 degree angles (Silverblatt et al. 178-179).

Sound Elements

In the pivotal, wordless slow-motion scene where Margaret experiences profound disappointment in “Margaretology”, even though there is a festive picnic in progress, all that can be heard in the soundtrack is wistful music and the faint sound of blowing leaves. Elizabeth and Philip walk past her, leaving her behind in actuality as well as symbolically (Margaretology). The combination of unnatural movement and unnatural sound help give focus to what the character is experiencing internally (Silverblatt et al. 184, 198).

“Aberfan” begins ominously with the sounds of rain, thunder and threatening mechanical noises. The noises continue subtly through a scene of children in a classroom. There are sequences of children practicing singing for a school assembly. The purity and sweetness of those sounds is in contrast to the menace that looms over them, accompanied by poignant background music. It’s significant that the children are practicing a song containing the lyrics “All things bright and beautiful”, reminding us that they are pre-eminent among the bright and beautiful things that are about to be lost (Aberfan).

In the palace, the Queen is shown writing in her planner while thunder is in the background, suggesting that she will somehow be affected by what is about to happen even in her solid, imposing residence (Aberfan).

When the Prime Minister speaks to the bereaved community, the sounds of cameras are conspicuously loud. We also hear prominent shutter clicks when the Queen dabs her eye with a tissue, reminding us that we are witnessing an important moment. The Queen was moved by Philip’s account of the mourner’s singing instead of using their anger and grief as fuel for a disturbance. She listens to a recording of the hymn at the end of the episode and finally is able to shed a tear (Aberfan).

Manifest and Latent Messages

In these two episodes of The Crown, most of the concepts are examples of manifest messages, clear and obvious to the viewer (Silverblatt et al. 11). I did find a couple of possible latent messages, that is meanings that are hinted at or unintentional (Silverblatt et al. 11). In “Margaretology”, it’s not stated out loud by anyone that Princess Margaret might have hit it off with President Johnson mainly because their personalities were similar and it’s likely she would not be able to repeat her diplomatic success in other situations with more genteel people (Updergrove). If one was not already familiar with Johnson’s reputation, some hints were given earlier by showing Johnson doing things like having a meeting while urinating and making crude remarks. The viewer can connect the dots and add to the clearly stated reasons why the Queen and her consort are hesitant to take more chances (Margaretology).

As the Queen exits an Aberfan home where she has expressed personal condolences to selected representatives of the community, she is photographed dabbing at her eye with a tissue. Near the end of the episode the Queen confesses to Prime Minister Wilson that she was not really crying and feels “deficient” because she is not able to cry at sad events like others do. The manifest message is that the Queen feels shame that her photographed suggestion of crying was not real and that the mourners deserved better. In preceding parts of the episode, there are many discussions among various players about how to manage public outrage over the disaster for the benefit of one political party or another, the Coal Board, the Monarchy, or the establishment in general. Since both the Prime Minister and the Queen are portrayed as at least somewhat principled and not solely acting in self-interest, a possible latent message is that the Queen felt obligated to fake the scene in order to create photographs that would both comfort the bereaved and help protect institutions that she is charged with preserving (Aberfan).

The creators of The Crown take already compelling subject matter and increase the emotional impact of this drama series considerably by indulging in careful and thoughtful detail in the production.

Works Cited

“Aberfan.” The Crown, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Benjamin Caron, Netflix, 2019.

Aglialoro, Todd. “Three Benefits to Abstaining from Meat on Fridays-Even After Lent.” Catholic Answers, 2019, www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/three-benefits-to-abstaining-from-meat-on-fridays-even-after-lent. Accessed 3 December 2019.

“Alan Lascelles.” Everipedia International, 2019, everipedia.org/wiki/lang_en/Alan_Lascelles. Accessed 3 December 2019.

Blakemore, Erin. “How the 1966 Aberfan Mine Disaster Became Elizabeth II’s Biggest Regret.” Maven, 2019, www.history.com/news/elizabeth-ii-aberfan-mine-disaster-wales. Accessed 3 December 2019.

Eschner, Kat. “The Story of the Real Canary in the Coal Mine.” Smithsonian.com, 2016, www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/story-real-canary-coal-mine-180961570/. Accessed 3 December 2019.

“Margaretology.” The Crown, written by Peter Morgan, directed by Benjamin Caron, Netflix, 2019.

Silverblatt, Art et al. Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages. Fourth Edition. Praeger, 2014.

“The Crown.” IMDb.com, Inc., 1990-2019, www.imdb.com/title/tt4786824/. Accessed 3 December 2019.

Updergrove, Mark. “Cruel to Be Kind: LBJ Behind the Scenes.” The Alcalde, 2012, alcalde.texasexes.org/2012/02/cruel-to-be-kind-lbj-behind-the-scenes/. Accessed 3 December 2019.


I have a growing collection of links in my Media Analysis Pinterest board – check it out!

Pop Art Sightings

My husband Tom and I were looking for an art show to go to on a Saturday evening after 5:00 pm mass and were pleased to see an ad for the show “Thank You” at Galeria Obscura by mixed media artist Marley Billie D. The theme of the show really resonated with me because an old friend of mine had died a few days earlier, and I had recently submitted a proposal for an art show that involved a tribute to another friend that passed away last year and both deceased friends and others were heavily on my mind. Appreciating the impact people had on your life when they are gone is a good thing, appreciating people while they are still here if you can is even better. I need reminders to do that more. Seeing a collage invitation for the show excited me. Collage and mixed media are near and dear to my heart (and one of my major muses) because of the way that actual found objects and papers can give another dimension to projects that brand new materials just can’t do sometimes.

Marley Billie D invitation and a scene from opening night.
Marley Billie D invitation and a scene from opening night.

I spoke to Marley briefly at the opening and expressed my appreciation for the collage, found objects and re-purposed materials used in the show. While some of the pieces in the show are actual collages or include some collage elements, each wall in the installation was itself a masterful assemblage that together created a kind of collage room. You could also think of it as a scrapbook that you can walk into. Artwork was combined with snapshots, many with captions written either on them or on the wall. The walls became a “journaling space” like you would see in a scrapbook or art journal. The black walls of the gallery space, some light gray painted frames at regular intervals, white text and “Polaroid” style photo margins in the exhibit were perfect neutral foils for the highly saturated colors in the artworks themselves. While viewing I soon realized the skill and design ability it takes to create an installation of joyful harmony when there is so much going on with colors, materials and textures.

Marley told me that Pop Art is one of her influences. I learned on the Oxygen web site that Marley Billie D was on a show called “Street Art Throwdown”. You could consider Street Art in the Pop Art category because it’s a populist form of art, and sometimes there is Pop Art subject matter incorporated into it. Marley told me that some of the Pop Art influences came out in her work in the “dot gain” pattern she likes to use in some pieces, used prominently by some well known Pop artists like one of Marley’s inspirations, Roy Lichtenstein. There is torn away corrugated cardboard also, which whether consciously or not helps me see the Pop Art influence. Cardboard cartons are a form of advertising re-created by another influence Andy Warhol in his Brillo boxes piece. The textures made by corrugated cardboard also look great combined with the dot gain pattern, both visually and thematically.

To my eye, there is also Pop Art influence in the saturated color schemes and the creative re-use of materials. There appear to be things like old wood, recycled frames and old wall decor blended in many of the pieces. The “cheesy” kind of wall art many of us remember growing up with could be considered a form of Pop Art. They are cozy, familiar, homey objects that remind many of us of happy family times from the past. Some of these discarded items from other people’s families can be found in alleyways and thrift stores, and while hunting and dumpster diving you might also find cardboard and product packaging. Very fitting to blend such materials with the retro and populist sub-contexts of the show. Also an example of how you can use kitsch to make art that is decidedly NOT kitsch.

You can understand by what I have written above why I had a strong personal reaction to this show. To explain further, the huge blue spoon and fork seen on the wall in my photo are perhaps examples of those objects that for some artists can become powerful symbols that appear repeatedly in an artists’ body of work. Sometimes the audience knows right away what the symbols mean, in other instances they are part of a more private language that the artist uses. Giant wall utensils also appear in one of Marley’s paintings – see it here on her Instagram account. I grew up in a house with several painted plaster ornaments decorated by my Mom, myself and my brother. For example my Mom “antiqued” a giant wall set that included fork, spoon and ladle, and displayed plastic grapes in the ladle part of it! I can relate intensely to this symbol. I think what Marley did in painting either the actual objects from the painting or objects like them dark blue and including them on this wall is a masterstroke, both in color choice and concept. The feelings they might evoke in someone who grew up surrounded by similar objects are powerful. They are also good examples of Pop Art because of their kitsch appeal, large size, bold colors and celebration of ordinary household objects, all characteristics that help signal the Pop Art genre. To add yet another level of meaning, utensils are associated with Thanksgiving, a ritual that involves food and family, is coming up in two days, and probably had something to do with the timing of this show.

I’m thankful for all the people who had something to do with forming my character and creativity as I have lived life. And I am thankful for Marley’s show for inspiring me and reminding me what I owe to others.

For more information about Marley Billie D:
Street Art Throwdown
Marley’s Facebook Page
Marley’s Instagram

I mentioned Pop Art subject matter above when I explained how Pop Art often celebrates objects that “ordinary” people use and encounter in their daily lives. A hamburger is one of the quintessential and ubiquitous American foods, and pop artist Claes Oldenburg was one of many pop artists who have celebrated the hamburger when he made his famous giant soft hamburger sculpture. The chain restaurants that feature objects on the walls evocative of the chosen restaurant theme could be considered a form of Pop Art as well. I don’t know a lot about the industry that supplies these objects, but I would like to! Some restaurants appear to use reproductions and/or vintage and antique objects to help create the desired atmosphere. It is very fitting that the new Red Robin restaurant in Richmond Heights, Missouri is decorated with colorful and engaging Pop Art. At least some of it appears to be specially commissioned work. I went to eat there because some of my friends were checking it out and I wanted to socialize with them (see photo). The art work was a special treat that I did not expect. Basically they turned the dining area into a giant Pop Art installation. There was even a hamburger hassock! The graphic below is a montage of some of my favorite pieces. Enjoy while contemplating an art form that originated as commentary on commercialism being shamelessly used as advertising! And very appealing advertising if you ask me…

Pop art subject matter
Stellar examples of Pop Art subject matter: beer advertising, maps, Americana, roadside signs, neon, video games, iconic toys, hamburgers…

What is the Hallmark Channel Selling?

Here is a paper submitted for Media and Culture class, presented here before grading.


Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Dr. Amanda Staggenborg
MEDC 5310.01: Media and Culture
12 November 2019

What is the Hallmark Channel Selling?

People tend to consume culture that is in accordance with their own attitudes, values and behaviors (Silverblatt et al. 97). If a media product gains a wide audience by appealing to the cultural norms of a large number of people, it becomes an example of popular culture (Silverblatt et al. 97).

During the week of November 20, 2017, the Hallmark Countdown to Christmas subscriber television programming was the highest rated for women in the age ranges 18-49 and 25-54 (Rosa). Hallmark put 16 more new Christmas movies into production in 2018 than 2017 (Rosa), indicating that the channel’s popularity was expected to rise even more.

Back in 2003, the Hallmark Channel was ranked 22nd. It saw itself as family friendly, “Main Street and mainstream”, with potential to become a much more powerful and popular network (Umstead). Also in 2003, the Hallmark Channel’s executive vice president of worldwide marketing and brand strategy also found the concept of “owning holidays” appealing as the channel started timing its programming to follow the holiday oriented calendar of the Hallmark brand’s retail stores (Forkan).

Hallmark stores are in the business of selling a variety of gift products that carry emotional messages (Ferrante-Schepis). On the Hallmark Channel, now one of several channels owned by Crown Media Family Networks which is in turn owned by Hallmark Cards, Inc. (About Hallmark Channel), the emotional messages support the brand and are also part of the product.

To be successful, marketers need to understand the values that their customers hold and celebrate during the holidays. Christmas consumers are moved by traditions and holiday memories (Knaub-Hardy 119-121). Other than just commerce and commercialism, many people celebrate by attending worship services and are conscious of promoting joy, love, community and kindness to others (Meredith). Typically celebrants engage in a lot of family activities such as parties, family portraits and school concerts (Stirland 22). The Hallmark brand has been around long enough that it has become a holiday tradition in its own right (Danailova 184).

The Hallmark Channel audience is about 70% female and about 30% male (Hallmark Channel CEO…) with a median age of 58.6 (Battaglio). Bill Abbot, CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, aims to appeal to viewers who are under served by an industry that in the main produces content that features violence, sex and controversy to court young viewers and the affluent audiences that are found in large cities (Battaglio).

Many Hallmark movie plots center around a woman who lives in a big city and has a stressful career (Battaglio). There are few people of color in most casts, a frequent criticism that the channel has acknowledged and is gradually taking steps to correct (Ellenbogen). The protagonist usually finds fulfillment by moving to a small town and engaging in romance with a supportive man that sometimes helps her solve her problems (Battaglio). There are holiday activities we associate with stereotypical All-American small town values and the plots make sure these endeavors include lots of consumption, such as gift giving, wrapping, food crafting and decorating (Battaglio). It makes sense to combine Christmas and romance together because the romantic ideal world view embraces Truth, Love, Beauty, Faith and Justice (Silverblatt et al. 109), values that work well in either context or both together.

Many critics have examined the implications of the popularity of these formula driven movies from feminist and political points of view. Some analysts think the movies make a pro-feminist statement while others are of the opinion that the values celebrated in the movies are a throwback to times when women had more constrained roles in society. Sometimes the movies are praised for giving viewers a respite from exhausting politicized content, and they also invite criticism from others for not including controversial or political messages.

The choice by Crown Media to attempt to avoid controversy is deliberate (Hallmark Channel CEO…). Referring back to the company’s direction in 2003, Crown Media appears to have kept its goal of “owning a holiday” firmly in mind (Forkan). Consumers who are motivated by thoughts of nostalgia, tradition and the better parts of human nature are assumed to respond negatively to programming that reminds them of how different the real world is from their ideal vision. People also reject content that is offensive to their most deeply held values (Silverblatt et al. 97).

Moving to the country has been a cherished American fantasy for a long time. When the United States was founded, many of the architects of the new nation idealized farming (Wolf). In the 1950s, when television first became the dominant form of media, many television programs moved their casts to or created shows in small towns and suburbia (Hine 24). People who moved to the suburbs liked to think they were moving to small towns, according to analysts of the time (Hine 24).

The book Populuxe makes the case that the years 1954-1964 were the high point of American consumer culture. Despite criticism by elite taste makers, many Americans bought products that were not of great quality but symbolized their fantasies about the past and the future (Hine 60-61). Crown Media appears to have tapped into the fantasies of Christmas and holiday buyers but has gone even farther by associating holiday consumption with other cultural myths of American mass consumers.


Works Cited

“About Hallmark Channel.” Crown Media, 2019, www.hallmarkchannel.com/about-us. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Battaglio, Stephen, “Hallmark Channel isn’t winning Emmys, but red states love it.” Los Angeles Times, 2017, https://www.latimes.com/business/hollywood/la-fi-ct-hallmark-red-state-20170914-story.html. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Danailova, Hilary. “Party, Gift and Hallmark Stores: Trends in Year-End Selling.” Souvenirs, Gifts, & Novelties, vol. 56, no. 4, May 2017, pp. 182-184. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=123229254&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Ellenbogen, Rachel, “Why Are Hallmark Movie Casts So White? We Asked The CEO” IBTimes LLC., 2017, https://www.ibtimes.com/why-are-hallmark-movie-casts-so-white-we-asked-ceo-2631589. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Ferrante-Schepis, Maria. “Lessons from Three Undisrupted Brands.” National Underwriter / Life & Health Financial Services, vol. 121, no. 2, Feb. 2017, p. 18. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=121064821&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Forkan, Jim. “Promo-Wise, Hallmark’s the Holiday Net.” Multichannel News, vol. 24, no. 15, Apr. 2003, p. 23. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=9537921&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

“Hallmark Channel CEO Shares the Magic Behind the Network’s Strategy.” NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, 2019, www.ncta.com/whats-new/hallmark-channel-ceo-shares-the-magic-behind-the-networks-strategy. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Hill, Samantha Rose, “Why the Hallmark Channel Is Completely Dominating in 2017.” Group Nine Media Inc., 2019, https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/hallmark-channel-movies-success-2017. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Hine, Thomas. Populuxe: From Tailfins and TV Dinners To Barbie Dolls and Fallout Shelters. MJF Books, 1986 and 1999.

Knaub-Hardy, Kathy. “How to Sell More Christmas-Themed Home Décor and Ornaments.” Souvenirs, Gifts, & Novelties, vol. 51, no. 5, June 2014, pp. 116-122. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=97170255&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Meredtith, Brian. “Time to Rethink Christmas Marketing.” NZ Business + Management, vol. 30, no. 1, Feb. 2016, p. 54. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=112287637&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Rosa, Christopher, “There’s a Reason You See the Same Women in All Those Hallmark Christmas Movies.” Condé Nast, 2018, https://www.glamour.com/story/hallmark-christmas-movie-actresses. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Silverblatt, Art et al. Media Literacy: Keys to Interpreting Media Messages. Fourth Edition. Praeger, 2014.

Stirland, Kirby. “All the Trimmings.” Earnshaw’s Review, vol. 99, no. 6, July 2015, pp. 22-39. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=109111548&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Umstead, R.Thomas. “Hallmark: ‘JAG’ Fits Our Brand Strategy.” Multichannel News, vol. 24, no. 25, June 2003, p. 16. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=bth&AN=10092311&site=ehost-live. Accessed 12 November 2019.

Wolf, Tom, “A Nation Founded By Farmers.” Modern Farmer Media, 2013, https://modernfarmer.com/2013/07/the-founding-fathers-on-farming/. Accessed 12 November 2019.

There are a few more articles that I read but did not use on my Pinterest board:
Media Analysis

Matching Advertising To The Right Audience

Here is one of my homework assignments for Media and Culture class. We were asked to bring in two ads and answer questions about them. Here is my response.

Ads by Fujifilm made for different products aimed at different audiences.
Ads by Fujifilm made for different products aimed at different audiences.

On the left is an advertisement for Fujifilm lenses, and the right shows advertisements for Fujifilm cameras. The advertisement on the left is from American Cinematographer magazine and the rightmost advertisements are samples of graphics made for social media and other campaigns.

1. Does the communications strategy of the ads differ? How?

The ad in American Cinematographer features an industry professional giving a testimonial about the quality of the product. The strategy is to appeal to an audience that is looking for serious professional equipment. The format of the ad is appropriate for a magazine which an older audience is more likely to be reading in the first place.

The ads for the Instax camera are meant to appeal to consumers taking snapshots. The consumer ads are designed for social media which is used more by younger people.

2. Does the style of the ads differ? How?

The professional ad uses serious colors, typefaces, and a photo that shows the professional looking intent and purposeful. The technique used in the photo is one that would catch the eye of professionals who know what lenses and professional techniques such as depth of field can do to enhance a subject. The focus is on the face of the professional person and both the foreground and background are out of focus which makes it an effective photo in itself but also shows off technique.

The consumer ads are much more brightly colored and contain less text than the ad aimed at professionals. It looks like the product is fun to own and use due to the bright trendy colors and sample pictures of social occasions. The consumer ads are also shaped and sized differently for use in different media, for example sharing on social media as opposed to sitting down and reading a print magazine.

3. Does the content of the ads differ? How?

There is more text in the professional ad. This type of consumer would need to know about photography to be interested in the product and know how to use the product. Such a person needs to know at least a little technical information about the product to know whether they would be interested and would be willing to read the small text. There are also references in the text that would mean something to professionals and give the spokesperson credibility. The professional pictured is male and the creators of the ad are apparently assuming the majority of the interested consumers would also be male. The person is a mature age but not elderly so at a stage of life where people are usually at a professional peak. There are small pictures of the product in the ad but the professional in the main photo is the dominant image.

The consumer Instax ads have less text. The consumer for this product is going to want something simple to use and is familiar enough with the concept of a camera to know how to take snapshots. The intended audience wants to have fun with the product and the bright colors and images of social situations suggest fun very effectively. The consumer is presumably interested enough in fashion and trends to respond to different color offerings. Instead of technical specs there are words like “cute”, “party”, “fun” and “instant”. The majority of people shown in the photos are young and female. The product looks simple enough for a teen or tween to use. An older consumer who is a crafter and into scrapbooking might also be attracted to the bright colors because they coordinate with a lot of popular lines of craft supplies. The pictures of people are small and subordinate to the product which is shown much larger.

I also put some magazine ads on a Pinterest board to look at, with the publication and date indicated.

https://www.pinterest.com/chasenfratz/media-analysis/

Play Review: The Lifespan of a Fact

lifespan_reviewOn October 17, 2019 I saw the play The Lifespan of a Fact at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Have you ever wondered how much of the media that you consume contains truth? Have you ever pondered how you personally define “truth”? Do you ever examine your own views on what kind of media you consume and whether or not you have different standards and expectations for how it presents supposed facts depending on the genre? How many artistic liberties are permissible to take with factual events in order to create a message that you think has merit? If you have ever thought about such matters or generally enjoy the kind of play that sparks discussions among your theatre-going party, I think you will love The Lifespan of a Fact.

There are three characters in the play, a writer, a magazine editor and a fact checker. They battle with each other as they negotiate what kind of finished product will end up in the magazine according to personal and industry standards of ethics. Will the finished product serve high art or the interests of the readers, the community, the advertisers or publishers? Can a compromise be reached? What would you decide if you were the editor?

Even though the play deals with serious issues and will give you a lot to think about, this production will not test your endurance or attention span. It’s not long enough to require an intermission and is fast-moving and entertaining with humorous and emotionally touching passages. Even though one could obviously apply the ideas in the play to current political situations, there are no overt partisan political references so it’s safe to invite your conservative or liberal friends – all should have a good time.  The Lifespan of a Fact is showing through November 10, 2019.

Link to Repertory Theatre box office: 
http://www.repstl.org/events/detail/the-lifespan-of-a-fact

Gardening, Larry McMurtry and Henry David Thoreau

One of my all-time favorite novels is “Duane’s Depressed” by Larry McMurtry. I’ve re-read it enough times to have it practically memorized. At the beginning of the book,
the title character is in his early 60’s and is the owner of a small oil company in Texas. One day he comes to the realization that he can no longer tolerate his current lifestyle. He decides that he has spent way too many decades of his life driving around in pickup trucks trying to accomplish things that haven’t meant anything to him in a long time. His house is too large, too crammed with stuff and too full of family members who drive him crazy. The town is too full of people who expect him to serve on committees, solve problems and listen to complaints. He doesn’t want to deal with the oil company anymore and eventually turns it over to his son. He abruptly parks his pickup truck, walks out to a simple cabin he owns outside of town, and abdicates nearly all of his responsibilities, despite protests from practically everyone in his life.

Duane has decided for reasons not known to him yet that he is fed up with motorized transportation. The new life he has begun has been simplified into figuring out how to meet his basic needs while walking everywhere he needs to go. His cabin has almost nothing in it so when he decides to clear some brush and stockpile some firewood, he walks to a convenience store with a small hardware department to get tools since he can’t stand the thought of having to deal with the people in the town and in his house to get the tools he already owns. The store owner tells him he is acting like Thoreau so he later seeks out a copy of “Walden” and reads it to see what the store owner is talking about. This is part of his process of seeking an explanation for his behavior that he can’t give to all the people who are bugging him about it because he doesn’t yet know himself.

A lot of the book deals with Duane’s thoughts as he’s working on his new activities. Later in the book he does engage in actual gardening but while he is still just working on firewood he considers walking to the store to purchase a wheelbarrow so he can work faster. Then he asks himself why he needs to work faster and decides that acquiring stuff so he can work faster is a slippery slope back to the old life he doesn’t want any more.

I think a lot about the decision of this character not to purchase a wheelbarrow while I’m out gardening. I own a few power tools, but I usually prefer to use hand tools when I can. I do not have a philosophical or moral objection to using power tools. I will use them when I think they will help me out. One of the reasons I use a lot of hand tools is that sometimes it takes more time to deal with batteries and rechargers and extension cords and power outlets than it does to just grab a hand tool and do it. I like the exercise that comes with hand work. Probably the biggest reason is that when I’m working on my own garden, I’m working for different reasons than for a client garden. Timing IS important when working on gardening and landscaping projects even if you don’t have a deadline or have to work in the most cost-effective way possible when working on a project. Sometimes you have to whip out the power tools to get things done during the right season or in the right order before something else can be done.

An invasive hedge we are removing bit by bit with hand tools.
An invasive hedge we are removing bit by bit with hand tools.

I’ve been periodically working on removing these invasive honeysuckle bushes and vines in our backyard for some time. I’ve been making a big push the last few weeks and last night my husband Tom joined in. So far all of this work has been done with hands, a bypass hand pruner, a small pruning saw and a pair of loppers. Yes we could get this done more quickly if we borrowed, purchased or rented a power chain saw. But if we did that we could not converse while we work or enjoy the bird sounds. The task would become just another chore instead of a restorative activity that makes us feel good physically and mentally. Another factor to consider is the apartment complex that is adjacent to our backyard. I hate it when weather nice enough to open your house windows finally comes along and you have to abruptly close them because all you can hear are leaf blowers, saws and lawn mowers. This is less of a problem if your property is large but as you can see ours is not and we have extremely close neighbors that I would rather not disturb if it’s not absolutely necessary.

Like the title character in “Duane’s Depressed”, I appreciate taking time when possible to do things the slow way and the simpler way. When I first read “Duane’s Depressed” 20 years ago I had not heard of mindfulness. I don’t think the word mindfulness is even in the book but that is part of what Duane needed without knowing it. Gardening is one of the things I do to help achieve it – when I’m gardening all I’m thinking about are the sights, sounds, smells, textures and sometimes even tastes I’m experiencing. The effect on my well being is almost like magic!

No, I haven’t yet read “Walden”. The character who mentions Thoreau to Duane refers to him as a “Yankee a**hole” and Duane’s therapist calls him “that gloomy man”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement is it! Have you read “Walden”? If so, what did you think? In this novel Duane also reads “Remembrance of Things Past” by Proust which he hates 90% of, so I haven’t picked that one up yet either!

Remembering an Old Friend

Mark Reed at Tower Grove Park in 1996
Mark Reed at Tower Grove Park in 1996

Mark Elliott Reed, 1969-2018

Unfortunately Mark was really too young to leave this world but he was an “old friend” because I knew him for a long time. We met when we were both in college and later on we shared an employer for a few years. We had many common interests such as art, hiking, animals and nature. I’m sure I pushed him out of his comfort zone at times because of some of my ideas of what is fun. I used to joke with him that you know who to call if you want to visit scary abandoned buildings, get heat stroke or stand for hours up to your ankles in cold mud! I hope he had as much fun on our more adventurous outings as I did.

Since I learned of Mark’s passing I’ve been looking through a lot of old photos. I have many photo albums of hikes we took together but he is not in many of the pictures. Mark was kind of shy about drawing attention to himself. When I was learning photography he did pose for me on occasion because it was in his nature to be a generous person.

Mark was sometimes insecure about his creative work but I was always amazed by his talent. He could create something interesting in any form of expression that he tried. Before Mark had formal art training, he was a bit insecure about his creative output and unfortunately he destroyed some of his earlier work. I do have some of it in my personal collection so there are some early pieces still around. Even when his artwork was still a bit naive in technique he had such creativity and exuberance that I was blown away. Over the years he worked with drawing, collage, clay, computer graphics, model painting and building, poetry and novel writing. I wrote a review of his first book “The God Hunters” on this old web page here: Book Reviews. I was not only impressed with the quality of his writing but that he had the fortitude to finish a large project like a book. He was on his sixth or seventh book in the series when he passed away.

Mark had a special sense of humor that I really appreciated – surreal and a bit twisted at times. For example here are a couple of lines from one of his poems that I really like:

Flies and grubs speak directly to us…
Geriatric means “no tacos”

I don’t know what that means – but at the same time I do!

Mark’s talent, knowledge and playful sense of curiosity made him a really interesting and fun person to be around. He was also very kind and generous with his resources, including his time. Mark was often available to share fun activities with me and he was also there for me at some really bad times in my life. I read through some old messages between Mark and I to try to date some of the old photos I was looking at. I noticed that although we did a lot together at times in our lives, there were also a lot of instances when I invited him to something and he was unavailable. In the vast majority of cases, this was because he was helping someone else or giving others the gift of his companionship.

It’s understandable that a lot of people wanted Mark’s company. Mark, you left the world wanting more.

Link to my Facebook tribute photo album to Mark:
Memories of Mark Reed